Singing ‘Get Off Your SoFAS’

February 2, 2011 in Blog Recipes, Diabetes Management, Diabetic Menu Item, Mediterranean, Nutrition, Nutritionism, Weight Management, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

Federal law requires an update every five years to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans; it is revised and published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and yesterday, January 31, 2011 was the day it was published. This large document is the basis of the U.S. nutritional policy. Many hospitals, schools, military and government programs (including food stamps and feeding programs) are designed to meet these guidelines. Because they are based upon scientific evidence, they are always worthy of the time and attention needed to understand them.

Why I think these are the best ever Dietary Guidelines

This document is really something to sing about.  This is the best that I’ve seen. It is the first time that the guidelines actually help to spell out the foods and lifestyle choices that are leading to obesity and to the lifestyle-related disease epidemic. I like it that the expert advisory panel who wrote the new guidelines didn’t cave in to the interests of big players in the food industry. They’ve even coined a new acronym/buzzword, which you will likely hear within a week or two: SoFAS. SoFAS are Solid Fats and Added Sugars – its double meaning, getting off the sofa (more exercise) and getting away from solid fats and added sugars will be a popular slogan, just wait and see. If you’re looking for a perfect place to start to get the calories down, the detrimental fats out and gain the health benefits of exercise, this little acronym gives three powerful targets for getting started.

Another thing I like about the new guidelines is that they focus on education. They try to help people identify their own SoFAS and learn how to replace them with better foods and better habits. At Dr. Grandmas we welcome these guidelines with enthusiasm, and hope they will help many people actually “get off their SoFAS," and start replacing their nutritionally careless and sluggish exercise habits with better ones.  We also take some modest satisfaction in giving this message in our own small way over the last several years. We hope our perspective and do-able approach coupled with an emphasis on yumminess, will be helpful to many. We observe that new readers are rediscovering some good ideas in some of our old posts, which are still timely, and hope others of you will be able to find value as well.

As always, we suggest that you begin making changes to move yourself to where you want your eating habits to be; do it gradually with small changes, but don’t put off beginning. We have been publishing recipes and making recommendations that support substituting healthier foods and more nutrient-rich meals and snacks for a long time.

Why I think there is still, room for improvement

What I regret about the new guidelines is that they just couldn’t give up nutritionism altogether.  They have an entire section dedicated to calcium, fiber, vitamin D, and potassium. The reason this is regrettable is that I believe that it is the perfect set up for the food processors and supplement manufacturers to say: ‘look at all the potassium that we’ve been able to load into our processed food product. (With greater candor, they could also say: ‘look at how much potassium additive we have “enriched” this nutritionally impoverished cereal with in our diligence to make a show of meeting federal guidelines.') Instead, if those who wrote the dietary guidelines would stick with their goals of continuing to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, they would accomplish the potassium goal, and in addition, hundreds of other plant nutrients too. Ditto for calcium, fiber and vitamin D. The food processors don’t have amnesia or Alzheimer’s; they never fail to load their cheap impoverished products, with supplemented nutrients that the health educators work so hard to introduce to the public. Keep your focus on whole real foods that supply those nutrients. You don’t need to be side tracked by seeing these nutrients emblazoned on a package – as an additive. If you’re eating the way the dietary guidelines and Dr. Grandma’s encourages you to eat, you will not need to be overly worried about specific nutrients.  Certainly, we recognize that there are a few exceptions for some including: childbearing age women, those with specific disease states and sometimes the elderly.

Practical application of the guidelines

What do the guidelines say? To really get the message directly, review the pdf or htm documents, both linked in the first paragraph of this post, but if a little short cut would help, read below.  It is a quick summary of what the new guidelines advise that we eat less of and what to do/eat more of:


  • Salt

Salt is trickier than you may guess at first glance.  I have friends that say things like, “I don’t use salt when I cook” and “I don’t add salt at the table.” But the problem doesn’t really end there. Restaurant meals, fast foods, processed foods are excessive sources of sodium. We’ve written about a lower sodium intake and encouraged you to not forget that sea salt and kosher salt ARE salt. Yeast breads like the regular loaf you purchase at the bakery or grocery story; or the buns on your lunchtime burger, provide 7.3% of the sodium in the average American diet.

So often the sodium is hidden. In a single McDonald’s shake, for example most people are worried about the 84 grams of sugar (and they should be, at over 5 teaspoons, 336 calories from sugar of 580 calories total – but that’s another not so great story). The fact is that they don’t know that they’re consuming 260 mg in a single serving of milk shake. If you’re striving to stay under 2300 mg/day or you’re African-American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, or are just interested in staying under a healthy 1500 mg, it’s difficult to have 260 in your shake, 1040 mg in Big Mac, and 140 mg in that small order of French fries. So you see if you had a Big Mac, small fry and a shake, you’d be at 1440 mg – that’s not likely to be your only meal for the day. Some people get the big breakfast (1920 mg) or the Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich (1690 mg). So you see that the Dietary Guidelines are giving a body blow to fast foods and refined foods. It’s not just the fat and missing nutrients this year – the salt is an obvious target. Hopefully, the fast food chains will wake up quickly and make some meaningful changes.

  • Solid and Trans fats

Fat Choices Can Make a Difference – A Big Fat Difference and the authors of the new Dietary Guidelines have turned their attention toward solid fats and trans fats.

The trans fats have been hit so hard that you don’t frequently find them on food labels; sometimes it’s because the food processors set the serving size so small that they don’t show up. For example, the law doesn’t require a food processor to list anything under 0.5 gram, but if you know what you’re looking for, you know they’re there. If you see partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, you’ve got trans fats. The sad thing is that restaurants can still use those fats and you will likely be largely unaware of it. Your heart will recognize that stuff, even if your mind doesn’t.

The attention to solid fats might prove to work somewhat better than talking about saturated fats -- a term best understood using some chemistry knowledge -- but most of us in the public can visualize some of the fats that we should cut back on like butter, milk fat (another name for butter), stick margarine, shortening, fats in meat, chicken, and cheese (milk fat again); they all look solid at room temperature.

Cheese is the number one source of saturated fat in the American diet – not a health food. When you think of saturated fat think: cheese, cookies, cakes, ice cream, burgers, hot dogs, sausage, chicken dishes, and French fries. See page 26 and page 28 of the Foods and Components to Reduce for great charts on sources of saturated and solid fats.

The new Dietary Guidelines suggest that small amounts of vegetable oils like olive, canola, sunflower and other oils should replace the solid fats; but the tropical oils are still out their lurking. Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil are exceptions to the healthy oil list. These three oils are great sources of the heart unhealthy short chain fatty acids – skip them.

Before we’re done you’ll know why we are being encouraged to cook more meals at home – because we can choose our ingredients and better control what we consume. Many food processors and restaurants use the tropical oils because they hold up very well in deep-frying, and products made with them can sit on a shelf for a coons age (that’s a long time), without becoming rancid. Keep your mouth and heart away from this stuff. See a very helpful chart on page 25 of the new guidelines section called Foods and Components to Reduce.

  • Added sugars

In an older post on sugar, I made a lucky guess – soda pop; energy and sports drinks, in short, sweetened beverages are the number one source of that familiar additive we crave so much. You might think that ice cream, candy, cookies, and other desserts would be first; but well, you’d be wrong, its beverages. Sugar is the classic example of empty calories. Delivers the calories but nothing to nourish you, that is, it produces energy but contributes not one thing to keep you healthy. (If you don’t burn it all up, it will leave something behind – fat; some of it in your arteries.)

Start looking at the labels of processed foods. Glance at a label for sweetened applesauce, for example; about 40% of the calories in a serving come from added sugars. Page 29 of the Foods and Components to Reduce has a nice chart of sources of added sugars. These sugars include high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, and crystal dextrose.

  • Refined grains

What more can I write about refined grains? If you’ve read this blog before, you know that eating whole grains is my mantra (see the 8 pages of articles on whole grains). In short, you can’t remove hundreds of nutrients, including the fiber and think that adding a sprinkle of fiber and a few supplements will deliver the same healthy benefits. It just doesn’t happen. Time to Give Up White Bread and Pasta, Really! is one example of posts on whole grains. See a nice list on page 30 of the Foods and Components to Reduce section for the top sources of refined grains.

I can’t resist mentioning that yesterday when the new Dietary Guidelines were published, a Google search for the new Guidelines brought up an advertisement for Big G cereals being the number one source of whole grain cereals at the very top of the search. Oh my goodness. If last week you missed Consumers Get Confused, Ya Think?, you may want to see why I was so amused by the ad placement.

  • Fast food

If you need to review why we should slow WAY down on fast food, go back to the refined grains section, the sodium section, and the trans and solid fats section and don’t forget the added sugar section. It is possible to go to fast food, if you’re really careful and choose the few items that are an improvement over the traditional burger and fries. There’s a salad at Wendy’s that’s not loaded with cheese, but be careful with the pomegranate sugar dressing. If I’m stuck, I get that. I also like the fruit, yogurt and nuts at MickyD’s. The bottom line is that even if you know what you’re doing (I consider myself to know) it really tough to get in and out without scarring your heart.

  • High fat meats

High fat meats got their own avoid category, even though they’d already be in the foods to reduce just by virtue of saturated fat.  So the idea is to substitute plant products like beans and nuts; fish; and lean meats for the high fat meats.

  • For some Americans less alcohol

It is clearly spelled out that no more than 2 drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women is a healthier goal. Saving the drinks up for a week and drinking them all on a weekend is not the goal. Page 31 goes into more detail of the Foods and Components to Reduce.


  • Seafood

The new Dietary Guidelines don’t just include seafood in the protein foods; they explicitly encourage 8 ounces a week, in place of some red meat. This is a big step forward. Eating seafood/fish is another of my tunes; you can see 8 pages of posts as related to eating seafood on our blog site. Page 38 of the Foods and Nutrients to Increase section has lots of information about seafood.

  • Whole grains

The story is just the flip side of the impoverished grains that we should be cutting back on. Last week we published Consumers Get Confused, Ya Think? about whole grains; it’s a frequent topic on our website. Don’t miss the excellent section in the new guidelines, Foods and Nutrients to Increase beginning on page 36. I’d like to emphasize the words AT LEAST in their goals. At least, half of the grain servings should be whole grains. It’s not easy to get past the marketing hype and the labeling deceits and actually get the amount of whole grain you need, as evidenced by the Consumers Get Confused, Ya Think? post.

  • Low fat and nonfat dairy

There are so many excellent nonfat dairy products now, for example, nonfat Greek Yogurt is a super thick creamy source of protein and the other nutrients of milk with no saturated fat from the milk. Give it a try; you’ll discover it’s wonderful.

  • Healthy oils

This is just the flip side of the solid fats to reduce section above. Just remember that oils like olive oil and healthy oils – should be used in moderation in place of, not in addition to, solid fats like butter, margarine, lard and shortening listed above. See Foods and Nutrients to Increase beginning on page 39 for a nice section on healthy oils.

  • Fruits & vegetables

We’ve been focusing on helping our readers to become familiar with different ways to prepare vegetables and fruits in order to help them increase the amount, varieties, and frequency of consuming fruits and vegetables.  The starchy vegetables like white potatoes and corn, don’t seem to need the encouragement, so we especially focus on the non-starchy vegetables. The typical American eats 59% of the recommended amount of vegetables. The goal is to focus on increasing dark-green, red, and orange vegetables. Most of us have known since our mothers told us as children to eat our vegetables that they must be good for us, but if there is any confusion check out the section beginning on page 35 of the Foods and Nutrients to Increase.

  • Beans and peas

Beans and peas have received their own private section and have been separated in the protein foods section. Because they are essentially saturated fat free, and exceptional sources of nutrients, they are being encouraged as a substitute for animal protein. There is really excellent material regarding the rationale for including beans and peas in the Foods and Nutrients to Increase starting on page 35. Replace some of your meat with healthy low fat sources of protein such as seeds, beans, and nuts.

  • Exercise

In the section Helping Americans Make Healthy Choices there is considerable information of how to integrate exercise into a healthy lifestyle, for both children and for adults.  One fun perspective that we posted is: Exercise is Better than Medicine.  If you haven’t read all our posts on exercise, you may want to review some of them here.

Where to Start

If you need to start at the foundation of healthy eating, which it more cooking at home, consider starting by stocking your pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods. Then rediscover the joys of preparing meals at home, enjoying both the process and products with loved ones. Eating at home is the best way of controlling the ingredients (taking control back from the food processors). Don’t forget to get off the sofa as well as the SoFAS -- get more exercise. When you’re restocking your pantry and refrigerator remember to ditch the SoFAS – get the solid fats and added sugars out of your diet.

I often quote Walter Willet MD, DrPH, the Nutrition Department Chair of Harvard School of Public Health and one of the authors of the new Dietary Guidelines in our posts; so today I’ll not break with that tradition. He was quoted as saying: "Don't misconstrue the message to eat more plant foods to mean more refined starch and sugars because even though they are plant foods, they are not necessarily healthy. Moving toward a more-plant based diet is beneficial if you replace solid fats, added sugars, and high animal fats with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, oils, and nuts." Eating less overly processed foods and more whole plant foods is clearly one of the main messages of the new guidelines. I think that Dr. Willet and the others should not be afraid that the citizens of our country will be confused by these new guidelines; they have been clearly spelled out. All in all, the new guidelines are the most clear of any preceding version. You can see the direction of the entire document and it is the song that we at Dr. Grandma’s have been singing for a long time. I applaud that clarity and will join in the chorus to sing a verse of getting off the SoFAS – a song that will help us take the first important steps toward getting away from the sugars and fats that deliver the whopping calorie load that is so rapidly accelerating the obesity epidemic and related health problems.

Lively Colorful Fruits, Vegetables and Wheat Berries

Liven up a winter day with this side dish; and serve with fish or chicken; or have it as a meatless main dish, as we did. You can break out and sing the chorus of Get Off Your SoFAS.


3 cups butternut squash, cubed

1 ½ cup cooked wheat berries

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt, if desired

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon Dr. Grandma’s Delight, or sugar

1 cup onion, chopped

3 cups washed, unpeeled Braeburn apples, chopped (or other tangy cooking apple)

¾ cup frozen cranberries, sliced in half

¾ cup pecans, coarsely chopped


Microwave the butternut squash, until tender. Use a mitted hand to squeeze test – don’t cook until mushy – just tender. If your wheat berries are frozen, microwave to heat. If you don’t have frozen cooked wheat berries, see directions for cooking here.

Meanwhile, mix the oil, curry, garlic, salt, and pepper in a skillet and begin to heat. After about a minute of heating add the Delight, onions, apples, and cranberries; stir. Cover and steam for about five minutes. When the apples are tender and show some signs of caramelizing, stir in the chopped squash and heated wheat berries. Allow to brown a bit in the skillet.

Roast the pecans in a dry skillet, stirring until fragrant and sprinkle on top of the other ingredients.

Fruit and vegetables.

Core and chop the unpeeled apples.

Put the herbs and spices into the heated oil.

Add the Delight, onions, apples and cranberries.

Steam for about 5 minutes.

Add the chopped squash.

Add the warm wheat berries.

Sprinkle with the roasted pecans and serve.